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Seven routes to enjoy France

Dal Kikin
December 3, 2018

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From Normandy and its cheese factories to Beaujolais’s villages and wines, the most important regions for gastronomy lovers.

From east to west and from north to south, France offers delicious gastronomic routes where you can get carried away by aromas, flavors and textures. There are those who travel the country just to get to know a famous restaurant, a famous ingredient for its quality or a chef who has been chosen by the indispensable Michelin guide. Road and tablecloth for some of the gourmet corners of the French geography.

1. The route of cheeses in Normandy

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The fromage is the guiding thread of this tour through the French north, inviting you to taste some of the best cheeses in the country, and starting with the Camenbert cheese. Creamy and famous internationally, however, comes from a humble and picturesque village of Normandy, with half-timbered houses. You can learn to taste it in a circuit guided by the Président farm, from the beginning of the 19th century and restored by the main producers of these cheeses in the region.

Another option is to visit the small Musée du Camembert, in Vimoutiers, which offers a lot of information about the history and culture of this cheese, and continue tasting delicious dishes in Livarot, which although it does not have the international fame of Camembert, is a well-known town in France. Here you can find the best organized circuit of cheeses from Normandy, in the Village Fromager, with a multimedia exhibition that shows how the Libranot, Camembert and Pont-lévêque specialties are made.

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The corresponding wine tasting can be done in St. Pierre sur Dives, where you can find the famous winery Les Arpents du Soleil, which has been making wine since medieval times, such as dry whites and a fruity pinot noir with an oak flavor. In Pont l'Éveque we will find cheese factories with a medieval tradition, as well as a well reconstructed town. And, very close, in the Distillerie Christian Drouin we will be able to taste the exquisite Norman cider and the calvados (typical brandy of the zone).

Two Norman jewels remain and an essential market. The first stop is Honfleur, one of the most charming coastal towns in the region, and, very close, Neufchâtel-en-Bray, known for its heart-shaped cheese that we can buy at the weekly market on Saturday mornings . The second essential is the town of Rouen -where Juana de Arco was judged for his heresy-, its beautiful and restored medieval quarter, as well as the impressive Gothic cathedral, object of a famous series of paintings by Monet.

2. For the Champagne wineries

In the region that gives its name to the most famous French drink, there are some of the most famous wineries in the world - Dom Pérignon, Moët et Chandon-, where you can taste their fine bubbles between hillsides strewn with vines. The route through Champagne starts in the majestic city of Reims, one of its capitals, where we will find references of such renown as Mumm, the only maison located in the center of the city, founded in 1827, and third world producer of champagne. It offers guided tours of its huge wineries, which accumulate up to 25 million bottles. And you do not have to leave Reims without trying the famous biscuits roses (pink cookies) from Waïda, an old-fashioned pastry shop specializing in this traditional sweet that accompanies champagne.

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The road continues to the south, between vineyards, and runs along secondary roads through which to divert to picturesque villages such as Riilly-la-Montagne or Mailly-Campagne, before reaching Verzenay. On the way there are many wineries that offer tasting and good enclaves of panoramic views to stop, such as Phare de Verzenay, a lighthouse raised as advertising claim in 1909. And so you get to Verzi, a village with small vineyards, counterpoint to the big producers , and lovely bars in the middle of the forest.

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Another essential reference is Hautvillers, where it is said that a Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Pérignon invented champagne at the end of the 16th century. The tomb of the friar is in front of the altar of the Abglial Église that presides over this labyrinthine town of narrow streets, wooden houses and vineyards with stone fences. And finally we arrived at Épernay, the prosperous and self-proclaimed capital of champagne, where some of the most illustrious wineries in the region are concentrated. Under its streets there are more than 110 kilometers of underground cellars where, they say, about 200 million bottles of champagne accumulate. Here we find firms such as Moët et Chandón, Mercier and the most intimate guided tours of Champagne Georges Cartier, whose labyrinth of passageways and cellars was excavated in the limestone in the 18th century.

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Two extensions of the route south of Epernay are Cramant and its bottle of champagne two stories high, and the Musée de la Vigne et du Vin of Le Mesnilsur-Oger, where a family has assembled a collection of centuries-old machinery used in the elaboration of this drink.

3. Burgundy and its Grands Crus

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To the east of France, this region associated with its wine boasts one of the country's great (and most photogenic) gourmets: the Route des Grands Crus, which visits some of Burgundy's most famous wineries and allows you to taste excellent wines in its historical setting, especially in spring and autumn, the best times to visit it for the tones that color its landscapes (and because there is less traffic than in summer).

We start from Gevrey-Cambertin, a small but famous town where nine of the 32 grands crus (the most distinguished wines) of Burgundy are produced. A little further south, there is another inevitable stop: the Château du Clos de Vougeot, considered the birthplace of Burgundy wines. The castle, from the 16th century, was originally owned by the nearby Abbey of Citeaux and was used by the monks for centuries to store material and produce its wines.

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Driving south you reach Villefranche-sur-Saône and Roche de Solutré, where it is worth spending some time at the attractive Nuits-St-Georges, a town with a dozen wineries that produce (and sell) excellent reds and whites, and stop at the impeccable interactive museum L'Imaginarium to learn more about the wines of the region. Another perfect place to stop is Aloxe-Corton, tiny and charming, surrounded by vineyards and wineries everywhere. In addition, you can visit the prestigious Château Corton-André, with its magnificent classic roofs.

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Beaune bases the reason for its existence on wine. This is what he has been doing for centuries: to elaborate it, taste it, sell it and drink it. Under the streets of its old town surrounded by stone walls and gardens, millions of bottles evolve in dark and cool cellars, such as Patriarche Père et Fils, the largest in Burgundy. For many lovers of red wine it is essential to make a pilgrimage to the fabulous Château de Pommard, with impressive wineries full of old vintages. Or even the Château de Mersult, one of the most elegant of the route and with prestigious white wines.

There are still stops with a taste of wine, like Saint-Romain and its viewpoint; the Château de La Rochepot, with its conical towers and multi-colored roofs, and the final pin, Pulligny-Montrachet, famous for its five extraordinary white crus grands.

4. The Dordogne in gourmet key

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This French region is famous for a sophisticated culinary culture, but also for maintaining a rural air that makes the route even more delicious. Here, in addition to restaurants and production centers, you have to stop at the street markets. If we start the route in Salat-la-Canéda we will have the opportunity to participate every Saturday morning in a chaotic street market where local farmers expose their gender. They are seasonal products, such as boletus, duck terrines, foie gras, walnuts (the main ingredient in many traditional recipes) and even black truffles. There are also night markets and specialized in truffles, but if we do not agree with any of them, the covered market is a safe bet to get all kinds of gourmet products. Afterwards, do not miss the panoramic lift of the tower of the church of Santa María to see the town and its slate roofs. And in the Moulin de la Tour de Ste-Nathalène you can see the last working water mill, where walnut oil and other products derived from this ingredient are made.

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In Carsac-Aillac the protagonist is the foie-gras, and many geese farms offer visits with tasting. From here, a picturesque road follows the course of the Dordogne River and passes through charming towns such as La Roque Gageac. In St-Cyprien we will find another of the delicacies of La Dordoña, the perle noire del Périgord (black truffle). There are family businesses that organize outings (from December to March) to find them with the help of dogs, like Truffière de Péchalifour. And if we continue to Mortemart we can taste another local delicacy, the wild boar meat, which are raised here in semi-freedom and with a diet rich in chestnuts that later provides a very characteristic flavor to the game, which is enjoyed in stews and also in patés and terrines.

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That La Dordoña also treasures good wines can be seen in Bergerac, which without so much fame as Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion is still a must for wine tourism. Many vineyards of Bergerac open to visitors, including the prestigious Château de Tiregrand, famous for its Pérchamant wines, and the Château de Monbazillac, a majestic 16th century fort whose winery specializes in sweet white wine.

5. Bordeaux: wine, oysters and other delicacies

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Bordeaux is synonymous with good wines, but there is much more in this region on the shores of the Atlantic and the Gironde estuary. Bordeaux is a gastronomic city where you can eat sumptuously, but it is also full of art. Half of Bordeaux is protected by Unesco (the largest urban ensemble declared a World Heritage Site) and it is a real pleasure to walk it on foot. There are exceptional cafes, delicious street food in vans and a good number of restaurants where you can also taste good wines.

Wine lovers have an appointment at La Cité du Vin, an impressive contemporary building of 3,000 square meters on the banks of the Garonne that looks like a modern decanter and hosts exhibitions as an introduction to the wine world. In Bordeaux you can also find the Winery, a huge steel and glass building that is a mixture of shop, theme park and wine museum, which also offers concerts or contemporary art exhibitions as innovative tastings. The Bordeaux region has more than 5,000 château, which are not castles, but farms where the grapes are grown, harvested and fermented so that they later mature as wine. Almost all have the possibility of being visited.

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Pauillac, to the northwest and on the west bank of the Gironde estuary, hosts some of the best vineyards in Bordeaux. Around this port city are the Denomination of Origin Haut-Médoc, Margaux and St-Julien. This area is dotted with extraordinary château, like the Margaux, with impressive wineries designed by the architect Norman Foster in 2015. A lunch is also essential at Café Lavinal, a fabulous rural bistro in Bages, with a zinc bar and benches retro-style reds that offers magnificent classic French dishes. And we continue between château in the one of Lanessan, that offers circuits guided by the neoclassic building, the gardens of English style and the stables with marble feeders (there is no shortage of wine tastings at the end of the visit). 

Another stop on the route is the spectacular Citadelle de Blaye, the best example of a constructive citadel (17th century, by Vauban), which was built to protect Bordeaux from naval attacks. Since 2008 it is a world heritage site by Unesco. Although probably the most attractive village of this agricultural region is Saint-Émilion, with visits and guided tours of all kinds and where to enjoy a blind tasting at L'École du Vin de St-Émilion.

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To take a breath of so much wine, nothing better than approaching the coast in the area of ??Gujan-Mestras, known for its oysters, which can be tasted in the picturesque posts of Port de Larros, where small varieties of wood huts are sold of local culture. And also on the coast is Arcachon, object of desire of the bourgeoisie of Bordeaux from the late fourteenth century as the famous Casino de la Plage and the more than 300 mansions of neo-Gothic and colonial styles of the centuries-old Ville d'Hiver.

For a different view, you can take a cruise around l'Île aux Oiseaux, an uninhabited island of birds in the middle of the bay of Arcachon, or visit the huge dune of Pilat, the largest in Europe, which grows about 4 , 5 meters per year and that has already engulfed many trees, a junction of roads and even a hotel. There is another curious stop: the hotel Co (o) rniche, a hunting lodge of the 1930s transformed by the French designer Philippe Starck into one of the most impressive beach restaurants in the country.

6. Breton and Norman delights

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A gastronomic tour of France can not leave aside Brittany, where you eat well and tasty in many more or less touristy places. This is one of the most famous butters of the country, the master Jean-Yves Bordier, who has the Bistro Autour du Berrer, where you can buy and taste the best cheeses, butters and local and seasonal dishes. The bistro is one of the few buildings in Saint-Malo that emerged unscathed from World War II. This port city also has excellent restaurants such as Le Chalut, which despite its discreet appearance has a Michelin star and is famous for its Breton products, such as turbot, skewer, crabs and scallops.

Cancale, an idyllic fishing port about 15 kilometers east of Saint-Malo, is famous for its oyster nurseries, which are consumed throughout northern France. It is the ideal place to taste them or compare them in their daily market, in which fishermen sell oysters directly at stands next to the Pointe des Crolles lighthouse. Just point out the ones we like the most, add a few drops of lemon, and they are ready to eat. And less than 10 kilometers south of Cancale, Le Coquillage is the luxurious restaurant of chef Olivier Roellinger, in the impressive Château Richeux, where he offers some fantastic creations that have earned him three Michelin stars.

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Another stop for fine palates is Argol, a town that boasts of its historic parish enclosure, from 1576, but also of its cider, vinegar and apple juice. La Maison du Cidre de Bretagne offers visits that go from the orchard to the production process and include a tasting. He also teaches introductory courses of two hours on the development of cider.

7. The villages of Beaujolais

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With its green hills, charming villages and vineyards, the Beaujolais region is a perfect landscape to explore, taste great wines and, above all, enjoy silence. The tranquility of this area of ??eastern France is complemented by ancient churches, magnificent estates and local roads that wind between hills.

If we start from Villefranche-sur-Saône, towards the north we can use wine as a common thread. In this town, presided over by an elegant Gothic church, we find the Espace des Vins de Beaujolais, which may be the starting point. Heading north, the fabulous priory of Salles-Arbuissonnas-en-Beaujolais, from the 10th century, and its adjoining Romanesque cloister tell us about the rich history of this region. In the village of Vaux-en-Beaujolais, a first tasting of fruity wines takes place in the evocative Cave de Clochemerle, but above all you have to stop at the Auberge de Clochemerle, a hotel that boasts its Michelin-starred restaurant, where the chef Romain Barthe creates elaborate regional dishes.

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A panoramic road leads to Mount Brouilly, crowned by a small chapel and from where you can see a view of the entire Beaujolais region and the Saône valley. Another unique stop is Beaujeu, historical wine capital where you can enjoy fantastic wines and also cheeses, jams and sausages from the region.

A little more wine? In the area you can also try Villié-Morgon, in an imposing and evocative château from the 17th century in the center of the village, or in Fleurie, where the red wines have a sensual reputation and can be tasted at the Château du Bourg. One of the best kept secrets of Beaujolis is the town of Juliénas. In its beautiful 16th century château, visits are organized for its cellars, the longest in the region. And in Saint-Amour-Bellevue do not miss the Domaine des Vignes du Paradis-Pascal Durand. It can end in Fuissé, a tranquil town of stone surrounded by vineyards famous for prestigious whites. This town is no longer in Beaujolais, but in the Burgundy region and is the way to unite two exceptional wine experiences.